A former dean of the USC School of Social Work pleaded not guilty Monday to federal corruption charges in an alleged bribery scheme involving City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas that prosecutor say resulted in the university receiving lucrative county contracts.
Marilyn Flynn, 83, entered the plea via Zoom in Los Angeles federal court to charges that she conspired with Ridley-Thomas when he was a member of the county Board of Supervisors.
A tentative trial date of Dec. 21 was set, with a status conference on Nov. 8. Flynn remains out of custody on a $50,000 unsecured bond.
Flynn’s attorney, Vicki I. Podberesky, has said her client “has not committed any crime, and we believe that the evidence in this case will ultimately support this conclusion.”
According to the 20-count indictment, Flynn agreed to provide Ridley-Thomas’ son with graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship and a paid professorship at the university. She also allegedly arranged to funnel a $100,000 donation from Ridley-Thomas’ campaign funds through the university to a nonprofit to be operated by his son, former Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.
In exchange, the indictment alleges, Ridley-Thomas supported county contracts involving the School of Social Work, including lucrative deals to provide services to the county Department of Children and Family Services and Probation Department, as well as an amendment to a contract with the Department of Mental Health that would bring the school millions of dollars in new revenue.
The donation prompted an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles that is ongoing, according to federal prosecutors.
According to the indictment, the activities occurred in 2017-18, beginning when Sebastian Ridley-Thomas was the subject of an internal sexual harassment investigation in the Assembly, was likely to resign from elected office and was significantly in debt.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas resigned from the Assembly in 2017, although he insisted at the time that his departure was due to health reasons, not a sexual harassment probe.
“The corrupt activities alleged in the indictment were facilitated by a major university’s high-ranking administrator whose desire for funding apparently trumped notions of integrity and fair play,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison said.
Prosecutors said the social work school was facing a multimillion-dollar budget deficit, which threatened the school’s viability as well as Flynn’s position and reputation as the school’s longtime dean.
As part of the bribery scheme, Ridley-Thomas and Flynn took steps “to disguise, conceal, and cover up the bribes, kickbacks, and other benefits,” prosecutors allege.
Flynn was dean for 21 years. The indictment says USC “removed” her from the position around June 2018.
The 66-year-old Ridley-Thomas pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment last week. The same day, he was suspended from his City Council post and his salary and benefits were frozen. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
Both Ridley-Thomas and Flynn are charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of bribery. The indictment also charges both defendants with two counts of “honest services” mail fraud and 15 counts of “honest services” wire fraud.
The conspiracy count alleged in the indictment carries a penalty of up to five years in federal prison. Each bribery count carries a maximum possible sentence of 10 years. Each of the mail fraud and wire fraud charges carry a maximum of 20 years.